This post is adapted from our upcoming Decoding App Development: The Business Leader's Guide to Building an App ebook. Read on to learn how to grab a free copy!
Online apps have become a big part of our day-to-day life. Generally speaking, they come in two flavors: mobile apps, which you download from an app store on your phone, and web apps, which you access through your web browser on a computer or mobile device.
When you start a new project to build a service or platform, the choice of web or mobile will be one of the first questions to answer. And it’s essential to know the benefits and drawbacks of both options.
The best option for your project depends on your goals and what you’re trying to accomplish; there isn’t a single “correct” answer. But let’s look at three of the most important factors to consider in the decision.
The people who will use your app (and when)
Before you sketch the first design or make a feature list for your first version, consider your target audience and how they’ll use your app.
Will your users be at home or work while they use your app? Or will they be working with a lot of data at once? Building a web app people can use on their laptops or desktop computers might be a good choice.
Will your users be on the go, or will they use your app while they sit on their couch and watch TV? A mobile app might be more appropriate for them.
If you’re not sure, that’s not a problem! Customer research can help you figure out more about your audience before designing or coding your app.
The features your app uses
It can be helpful to consider your app’s features, too. Will your users need functionality that requires a phone (or a computer)?
If you’re working with lots of files – for example, documents or edited graphics – it might be more convenient to have your app live where they’re also working with those files. In most cases, that will be on their computer.
Mobile devices, on the other hand, offer many possibilities that aren’t readily available on a computer. Phones can use your location, for example, and they can provide an easy way to take a photo or send notifications. And there are other benefits of mobile apps as well, from increased visibility to more opportunities for engagement.
The costs to build and maintain an app
Finally, it’s worth considering the costs of both kinds of projects.
Modern web apps can work on any device (including phones!). In most projects, this reduces the time it will take to develop an app.
Mobile apps must be built and tested to support iOS and Android devices. For highly specialized apps, this may require a developer to build separate apps for both systems. The majority of apps, though, can be built with a single code base and then split to support both platforms.
While web and mobile apps require updates over time, mobile apps often require more time to keep up with the latest and greatest enhancements when new versions of phones are released each year.
If you can’t decide whether a web or mobile app is best, there’s one final option: you can do both. Most popular online platforms – from Facebook to Pinterest to Dropbox – have a mobile app and a version you can access through your browser. Creating both flavors adds more development time, but it also allows your users to choose which is the best experience for them.
Please let us know if you have questions about which option is best for your next project or idea. We’d be happy to help!